Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Research on tiniest particles could have far-reaching effects

16.02.2004


Neutrinos are about the tiniest things in existence, but developing a greater understanding of what they are and how they function is likely to have a huge impact in the next few years.



The subatomic particles, created in the nuclear furnaces of the sun and other stars, have no electrical charge and only recently has it been found that they have any mass at all, yet billions pour through each human body every second with no discernable effect or interaction.

Still, the very slight mass each neutrino possesses is enough for all of them together to be comparable to the mass of all the stars and planets of the universe, said John F. Wilkerson, a University of Washington physicist who is working at the forefront of neutrino research. He will discuss the future of neutrino physics research Sunday during a symposium at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Seattle.


While neutrino research might seem esoteric to some, Wilkerson believes it has broader impact.

"You can never predict the future of what the spinoffs will be," he said. "We’re trying to have a better understanding of the universe, and because we’re pushing the technology there are some interesting technological spinoffs."

He concedes that current neutrino experiments and ones that follow are unlikely to have much direct impact on most people’s daily lives, but they will bring technological advances. For instance, neutrino science is improving techniques for making clean materials, since the laboratories are among the cleanest places in the world in terms of background radiation.

Inside those labs are neutrino detectors – huge tanks filled with hundreds of thousands of gallons of ultrapure water or other liquid ideal for observing ionizing particle reactions. But those detectors also keep vigil, watching for a star in our galaxy that explodes into a supernova. A sudden burst of neutrinos, lasting less than a minute, can let scientists know of the supernova in time to make astronomical observations.

Technologies developed for neutrino detectors also can be adapted for security needs, such as detecting clandestine nuclear weapons tests or possibly detecting nuclear material being smuggled through a seaport.

Neutrinos come in three types, or flavors: electron, tau and muon. One project in which Wilkerson has played a major role, the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Ontario, two years ago provided definitive evidence that not only do neutrinos have mass, but that they change willy-nilly from one flavor to another as they flit through air or matter.

This answered a question that had puzzled scientists for decades – why there seemed to be fewer neutrinos coming from our sun than theory predicted. The answer was that the neutrinos were there, but only one type could be detected. Finding the other types solved that problem, and led to the realization that neutrinos do have mass, contrary to the accepted rules of physics.

"Science, in answering one question, has opened up a whole area of new and interesting questions," Wilkerson said – questions such as what role neutrinos played in the early universe, how stars explode and how those explosions create heavy elements such as copper and lead.

"If we want to understand the way these elements are created, as we are trying to do, there’s no way to do that without understanding neutrinos," he said.

That lends greater importance to an upgrade of the Sudbury experiment that will allow it for the first time to be able to differentiate in real time between types of neutrino reactions. It also shows the significance of an experiment in Japan called KamLAND, which examines the properties of antineutrinos generated by a number of nuclear reactors at Japanese power plants.

Wilkerson believes the work at Sudbury and KamLAND in the next few years will emphasize a growing need for an underground science laboratory in the United States. Currently there are a handful of major dedicated underground labs in the world, but the deepest is less than a mile below the surface and new experiments need depths of perhaps 7,000 feet or more.

There are several proposals to build an underground lab in the United States, including a closed gold mine in South Dakota, beneath Washington state’s Cascade Range and next to an old iron mine in Minnesota. There are many advantages for the U.S. to have an underground lab, Wilkerson said: it would be a boon to education on all levels, would help train a future force of scientists, and would let the work of U.S. scientists be accomplished here, he said.

"There’s been a long history in the last 30 or more years that there have been good ideas in the United States, and they’ve been done at underground labs around the world but not in the United States because we didn’t have a facility," he said. "There’s a real compelling need based on the science, and there are a lot of potential benefits."


For more information, contact Wilkerson at 206-616-2744, 206-685-9061 or jfw@u.washington.edu

Vince Stricherz | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.washington.edu/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht On Mars, sands shift to a different drum
24.05.2019 | University of Arizona

nachricht New Boost for ToCoTronics
23.05.2019 | Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New studies increase confidence in NASA's measure of Earth's temperature

A new assessment of NASA's record of global temperatures revealed that the agency's estimate of Earth's long-term temperature rise in recent decades is accurate to within less than a tenth of a degree Fahrenheit, providing confidence that past and future research is correctly capturing rising surface temperatures.

The most complete assessment ever of statistical uncertainty within the GISS Surface Temperature Analysis (GISTEMP) data product shows that the annual values...

Im Focus: The geometry of an electron determined for the first time

Physicists at the University of Basel are able to show for the first time how a single electron looks in an artificial atom. A newly developed method enables them to show the probability of an electron being present in a space. This allows improved control of electron spins, which could serve as the smallest information unit in a future quantum computer. The experiments were published in Physical Review Letters and the related theory in Physical Review B.

The spin of an electron is a promising candidate for use as the smallest information unit (qubit) of a quantum computer. Controlling and switching this spin or...

Im Focus: Self-repairing batteries

UTokyo engineers develop a way to create high-capacity long-life batteries

Engineers at the University of Tokyo continually pioneer new ways to improve battery technology. Professor Atsuo Yamada and his team recently developed a...

Im Focus: Quantum Cloud Computing with Self-Check

With a quantum coprocessor in the cloud, physicists from Innsbruck, Austria, open the door to the simulation of previously unsolvable problems in chemistry, materials research or high-energy physics. The research groups led by Rainer Blatt and Peter Zoller report in the journal Nature how they simulated particle physics phenomena on 20 quantum bits and how the quantum simulator self-verified the result for the first time.

Many scientists are currently working on investigating how quantum advantage can be exploited on hardware already available today. Three years ago, physicists...

Im Focus: Accelerating quantum technologies with materials processing at the atomic scale

'Quantum technologies' utilise the unique phenomena of quantum superposition and entanglement to encode and process information, with potentially profound benefits to a wide range of information technologies from communications to sensing and computing.

However a major challenge in developing these technologies is that the quantum phenomena are very fragile, and only a handful of physical systems have been...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

SEMANTiCS 2019 brings together industry leaders and data scientists in Karlsruhe

29.04.2019 | Event News

Revered mathematicians and computer scientists converge with 200 young researchers in Heidelberg!

17.04.2019 | Event News

First dust conference in the Central Asian part of the earth’s dust belt

15.04.2019 | Event News

 
Latest News

On Mars, sands shift to a different drum

24.05.2019 | Physics and Astronomy

Piedmont Atlanta first in Georgia to offer new minimally invasive treatment for emphysema

24.05.2019 | Medical Engineering

Chemical juggling with three particles

24.05.2019 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>